I am not sure Arsène will have viewed the photo on the front page of the official site this morning, as the most flattering as it captures what seems to be a maniacal grin. I am not sure that the lunacy is his this morning though, others are making a sterling challenge for that title. It was strange enough to see Gael Clichy talking about other teams losing their nerve but headlines and articles about Wojciech Szczesny being on his way out of the club seem to confirm the existence of mass hysteria. Or journalism as it is more commonly known.
Which Pole will be in goal for Saturday’s visit to The Valleys is not clear. Robot in disguise, Fabianski staked a good claim with his performance in Munich, Szczesny would probably counter with the argument about how lucky his rival was to have a back four and midfield which hassled and harried their opponents, something Arsenal have not done since the opening weeks of the season. A few years back, Szczesny replied “Fabianski” to the question of who was the best goalkeeper at the club. It was a surprising answer given that at the time the elder of the pair had been going through a tough time, his detrimental sobriquet adorning newspaper headlines whenever he played. Yet redemption was hinted at in the Carling Cup, especially during the 4 – 1 win at White Hart Lane. The rumoured training ground form seemed ready to transition to the first team.
Whatever choice Wenger makes, both Poles have similar failings in technique when put under pressure but if Fabianski could prove that this were a permanent change in his footballing demeanour, there would be a strong case for his services being retained in the Summer when his contract runs out. Whether he will get that chance remains to be seen. The problem for Wenger is that unless he buys a proven world-class (always a subjective term, I know), whomever we are linked with never really seems like anyone better than we already have at the club. Only Wenger will know if we genuinely were interested in Lloris, a player whose copybook seemed to be blotted with a problem handling crosses at international level. Previous targets touted have been Freidel, Given and of course, Schwarzer. Hindsight questions whether the problem now would be complaints of a goalkeeper losing it now he has reached the other end of the age spectrum to Szczesny. And what of Reina, whose mistakes and errors are of a higher level of tomfoolery than any Arsenal goalkeeper? It is a tough position to fill, the talent pool small and the outstanding goalkeepers generally playing at big clubs.
That’s a problem for the Summer though. Right now, the focus is on the Premier League. Wenger spoke of the improved performance in Munich,
I believe that last night we played with determination, authority and cohesion. We won a big game. Let’s be inspired by that for the rest of the season. We showed more authority in the duels. We were more on the front foot and less on the back foot. A part of it is mental when you defend as well, to show that you’re there to be respected and I think we did that very well.
Part of good management is listening to others and the sea-change in tactics suggests he was influenced by his coaching staff. Ultimately though, Arsène put his neck (once more) on the block and the players responded well. Whether they have the mental ability to repeat that on a regular basis is a difficult case to substantiate. Looking back to the win at Anfield in the early stages of the season, Per Mertesacker said,
We believed in ourselves – that was the most important thing and we played fantastic. We now have to focus on our strengths and that is vital for the next few weeks, to stay near the top of the league.
The same holds true now, the major difference is that there are only a few weeks left of the season giving the players little time to recover points dropped. Arsenal are in the position where dropping points is not an option, seven points behind Tottenham, five behind Chelsea with ten games to go. Games in hand are irrelevant, the ten remaining are all that matter, maximising points the objective. The Liverpool win gave a short-term confidence boost but within eight weeks, that evaporated. Wenger and his staff face the task of not permitting that to happen again. And it is not an easy battle to win. Nothing so far this season has suggested that one single victory can have such a positive influence on this group. That said, I don’t think Arsenal have recorded a win of this magnitude so far.
Saturday is almost upon us, two matches in three days before a fortnight of nothingness. There’s a Manic Street Preachers song to be made out of that, something like “If you tolerate this, then your football club will be next” or “Footballing Emptiness“.